The construction sector ended the third quarter of the year on a positive note, according to the latest construction Purchasing Managers index from Ulster Bank.

The Ulster Bank Construction PMI dropped to 55.8 in September from 56.5 in August. A figure above 50 signals growth in the industry, while a figure of under 50 signals contraction. 

While this was the lowest reading since March, it still pointed to a marked increase in construction activity during the month. Output has now risen in each of the past 25 months, Ulster Bank noted.

For the first time since June, all three monitored sectors of the index - commercial, housing and civil engineering - recorded activity growth in September. 

The index showed that the sharpest expansion was activity on commercial projects, despite the rate of growth easing over the month. 

Housing activity rose at a slightly faster pace, while civil engineering recorded a return to growth with a modest expansion in activity recorded.

The index also showed that activity, new orders and employment all continued to rise in September.

Cost inflation was down too, easing pressures on the price front  which perhaps reflected a weaker sterling in the month of September.

While the overall story remains one of continuing construction sector expansion, the fall in the September headline PMI index represented the third consecutive monthly decline, commented Ulster Bank economist Simon Barry.

Mr Barry said that pattern suggests that momentum behind the recovery slipped a little through the third quarter - a trend that bears watching in the months ahead.  

However, he said one important reason not to be overly concerned about near-term prospects is the very healthy trend in new orders that remains very much in place. The new orders index again showed rapid growth in new business levels in September, with the pace of increase quickening for the second month running.  

"These gains in actual and prospective activity continue to underpin rising demand for labour within the sector - the latest solid increase in employment takes the jobs recovery among survey respondents into its third year following a sequence of 25 consecutive months of rising employment," he added.